Senator Frank Lautenberg Diagnosed with Stomach Cancer

New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, 86, the second oldest Senator currently serving, has been diagnosed with stomach cancer. The senator was taken to the hospital on Monday after falling. He was diagnosed as having a bleeding gastric (stomach) ulcer. A biopsy of the ulcer revealed a B-cell lymphoma, a form of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.  According to Dr. James Holland, of New York City’s Mount Sinai Medical Center, Senator Lautenberg will undergo six to eight chemotherapy treatments and should make a “full and complete recovery.” He is expected to return to the Senate between courses of chemotherapy.

Several types of cancers are found in the stomach:

  • About 90% to 95% of cancerous (malignant) tumors of the stomach are adenocarcinomas.  This cancer develops from the cells that form the innermost lining of the stomach (known as the mucosa).
  • Gastric lymphomas account for about 4% of stomach cancers. These are cancers of the immune system tissue that are sometimes found in the wall of the stomach. For the most part, they are Non-Hodgkins lymphomas (NHL) which have originated in the stomach.
  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST) are rare tumors that seem to start in cells in the wall of the stomach called interstitial cells of Cajal. Some are non-cancerous (benign); others are cancerous. Although these tumors can be found anywhere in the digestive tract, most (about 60% to 70%) occur in the stomach.
  • Carcinoid tumors are tumors that start in hormone-making cells of the stomach. Most of these tumors do not spread to other organs. About 3% of stomach cancers are carcinoid tumors.

What are the risk factors for stomach cancer?

  • Infection of the stomach with Helicobacter pylori  (a bacterium believed to be the cause of most peptic ulcer disease)
  • Chronic stomach inflammation
  • Male sex- especially men of Asian-Pacific, African-American, or Hispanic descent
  • Age over 65 years old
  • History of eating lots of salted, smoked, or pickled foods
  • Cigarette smoking, or alcohol overuse
  • Family history of stomach cancer

What are the symptoms of stomach cancer?

Early stomach cancer often does not cause symptoms. As the cancer grows, the most common symptoms are:

  • Discomfort or pain in the stomach area
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Feeling full or bloated after a small meal (early satiety)
  • Vomiting blood or having blood in the stool

Gastric lymphomas are more prevalent in patients over the age of 50, and men are affected two to three times more frequently than women. Although they are Non-Hodgkins lymphomas, the symptoms they present with tend to be more similar to patients with gastric adenocarcinoma or peptic ulcer disease than patients with NHL. Treatment can be surgical, radiation therapy or chemotherapy, or a combination of these, depending on the stage of the cancer.

For more information:

Gastric Lymphoma
Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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